Tag Archive: alternate history


Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re accustomed to seeing non-fiction tie-in books digging into what makes the big sci-fi franchises so popular.  But it’s only a recent trend that publishers are meeting fan demand by digging into those television series that don’t have the established fan bases and studio support.  Firefly was probably the first series to break out in this way, but publishers are now seeing–thanks to streaming platforms specifically–that fans want more content about their favorite shows.  Following recent books like Jeff Bond’s The World of The Orville (reviewed here at borg) and The Art and Making of the Expanse (reviewed here), the next acclaimed science fiction series has a behind-the-scenes account with Mike Avila’s The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World from Titan Books.

Designed almost identically to the successful The World of The Orville, this look at Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World is both an overview of the series, its characters, its source material, and the creation of its detailed alternate world, and it’s also a visit with the creators behind and in front of the camera that made a complex, highly regarded work of classic sci-fi literature into a compelling benchmark in television storytelling.  As we’ve seen in interviews with Lisa Henson in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra and interviews about the Broccoli family in The Many Lives of Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, this look at the Amazon series provides one of fandom’s first glimpses at Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Dick estate trustee and series executive producer Isa Dick Hackett.  So whether you liked (or not) how the series took portions of the novel, left some behind, and added new bits, Hackett explains the thought process behind the production’s choices.

The book covers the entire series–all four seasons–and is divided into four sections by theater: the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, the Greater Nazi Reich, and Alternate Worlds, and these sections further highlight specific components of the series, including characters, locations, design, costumes, props, and music.  There’s even a section on creating the creepy opening title sequence, slightly altered each season.  And stills of the signage, both re-created concepts and alternate history imagery, provide fans the opportunity to at last study them in detail.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It was such a big deal to prepare for, and then it was over in an instant never to be heard from again.  That’s Y2K, or the Millennium Bug, and it’s a fun time to look back on especially if it’s part of that richly detailed Anno Dracula universe created by British author Kim Newman (who we interviewed six years ago for Halloween here at borg).  The third story in Newman’s Christina Light arc (after the comic series Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem and novel Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters), Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju gathers a team of real and unreal, dead and undead, at a giant skyscraper in Tokyo on December 31, 1999, for the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties.

Newman is the master of world-building and mash-ups, and he doesn’t disappoint in this new October release.  In what horror universe is both John Blutarski a U.S. Senator partying in Japan (remember John Belushi’s character in Animal House?), the Apollo 13 movie included the first vampire astronaut, and Charlie’s Angels reconvene years later?  Anno Dracula continues its mix of historic characters of pop culture and politics and those throwback tangent characters from literature, TV, and movies.  In Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju readers can remember what it was like to “party like it’s 1999” with an alternate history where Dracula and vampires have always been real.

One of many tangent characters in Kim Newman’s latest Anno Dracula novel.

Newman includes so many Easter eggs in his books that finding them all–probably impossible for anyone that isn’t Kim Newman–should be part of some kind of international contest.

The New Year’s party of this story is in honor of Christina Light, famed vampire princess.  But will she show, and will anyone even get through the labyrinthine skyscraper to attend on the 88th floor by midnight?  Who is the shadowy Jun Zero?  Is Y2K really a bug, or is it a person, or worse: that daikaiju in the title is the name of the tower in Tokyo that houses the offices of an international conglomerate, but it also means “big monsters.”  So get ready for anything to happen, including the appearance of a cyborg and maybe even Dracula himself, as distinguished guests, leaders of finance, tech, and culture, are held hostage by yakuza assassins and Transylvanian mercenaries.  Enter vampire schoolgirl Nezumi–agent of the Diogenes Club–who finds herself and her trusty sword named “Goodnight Kiss” pitted against the deadliest creatures the world has ever known.

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February, and we had a glimpse at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of Stranger Things.  Another trailer is here, and this one finally confirms Chelah Holsdal′s bigger role as Helen Smith, wife of the new leader of the Nazis and former U.S. soldier, John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell.

With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa′s Tagomi had done.  Helen and her girls have John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for a big, brutal finale this next year, especially as Joel de la Fuente′s Inspector Kido gains more influence and power.  Who will win the battle for the World War II outcomes of all dimensions, the U.S., Japan, or Germany?  (Sounds like a game of Axis & Allies to us).

Is Helen Smith finally going to kill her husband John for letting her son die?  It seems likely Philip K. Dick would have approved all the updates and extensions to his novel in this show.  Here is the latest look at the final season of The Man in the High Castle:

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February.  Now we have a peek at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of “stranger things.”  An experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele, who could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines led to the Liberty Bell melted down and the Statue of Liberty destroyed, last seen falling into New York Harbor.  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi had done.

Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink were cast out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price stepped in to fill the void.  Helen and her girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.

What is this mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?  Check out this first look at an opening scene showcasing these characters in season four, the final season, of The Man in the High Castle:

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Amazon Prime released its first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV series here at borg.  Last fall’s season three finale, “Jahr Null” (Year Zero), included a set inspired by 1960s sci-fi films where an experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines.  The Liberty Bell was melted down, and the Statue of Liberty was destroyed, falling into New York Harbor.  Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink are now out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price steps in to fill the void in the rogue hero department.

Helen and the girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Did he live or die, and does that mean Smith becomes Fuhrer?  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana has finally figured out how to travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi.

Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.  Will Laura Mennell’s Thelma Harris take on a greater role now that Bella Heathcote’s Nicole Dörmer was sent back to Germany for flaunting the law?  And what is the mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?

Check out this first look at season four of The Man in the High Castle:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick‘s  The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, and is widely considered his best work.  Some of his 44 novels and 121 short stories have been adapted to film, including 10 in the past year in the series Electric Dreams (previously reviewed here at borg), and big screen films Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, Next, A Scanner Darkly, and Screamers.  None of those better reflect the depth of Philip K. Dick’s genius than the Amazon television series The Man in the High Castle Season 3 is available this month on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  In his novel the series is based on Dick delved into the science fiction trope of the alternate history, a parallel world showing a view of a different 1960s after World War II.  Often mislabeled as merely a story where Nazis won the war, the fact is the novel focuses substantially on the shared Japanese victory and the resulting assimilated culture in the United States some 20 years later.  Series director Daniel Percival and a host of other directors and writers expand upon the novel–and the parallel world–into something much bigger, and something much greater.  To call The Man in the High Castle a loose adaptation of the novel is a disservice–the series conjures the spirit of Dick’s unique vision faithfully and one can imagine Dick endorsing the expanded elements were he still with us.  The novel is always the backbone of the series (even in this third season’s fifth episode “The New Colossus” viewers are brought back to a cornerstone scene from the novel).  As with Dick’s book, the series is an inspired, even noble use of science fiction.

Amazon debuted its film studio potential with the pilot for the series in January 2015, followed that November by the first season, developing not only the lead characters in the book–antique dealer Robert Childan (Brennan Brown) and Japanese Pacific States trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)–important secondary characters are expanded, too, including struggling jewelry maker Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), his wife (girlfriend in the series) Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) who would venture off to meet the mysterious title character (Stephen Root), their friend and co-worker Ed McCarthy (D.J. Qualls), Nazi spy Joe Blake aka Joe Cinadella (Luke Kleintank), and the enigmatic Nazi attaché Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard).  Added to these eight characters by series creator Frank Spotnitz are former U.S. soldier-turned rising Nazi officer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and his family, Inspector Kido–a cold and ruthless Japanese enforcer (Joel de la Fuente), and Nicole Dörmer (Bella Heathcote), a rising propaganda director.  The characters were fleshed out in 2016 in the show’s second season, with chemistry among the cast, plus high stakes life-and-death risks that raised doubt that viewers’ favorite characters will survive from episode to episode–all reason to keep coming back for more.  With this new season, viewers have now been able to examine the tentacles of a Fascist state as it infiltrates and annihilates both the average worker and the ruling elite–nobody really wins, everyone loses.  Historical parallels to the real world are left for the viewer’s interpretation.

Through Sewell’s Smith we see the inevitable doom awaiting everyone under a Fascist regime–that even the leaders aren’t exempt from application of their code of terror and hatred (Smith as a top official still lost his son for his “inferior” DNA via a genetic anomaly), from Frank Frink we see the struggle to survive for any member of the citizenry who is not of the “preferred” race, through Joe Cinadella (aka Joe Blake) we see how quickly a Nazi can be brainwashed into disregarding life, through Wegener we see the difficulty of defiance and resistance against a giant, stifling regime in power, through Dörmer we see the arrogance and cost of hubris, from Kido we see that torment and terror under an autocratic regime knows no bounds, Childan illustrates the complacency of a detached, disengaged middle class, through Tagomi we see the struggle of a single peacemaker among a field of lunatics, and through Juliana and Ed we see the possibility of hope through commitment and determination–but will they succeed or fail?.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In After the End of the World, author Jonathan L. Howard pens the second book in a series featuring his two heroes, bookstore owner Emily Lovecraft, fictional descendant of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and ex-cop Daniel Carter, descendant of Randolph Carter, a recurring character in H.P. Lovecraft’s novels that was said to be written into Lovecraft’s works as his alter ego.  The novel continues in a different vein from where Howard’s Carter & Lovecraft left off, taking readers into the realm of alternate histories and speculative fiction.

After the End of the World will be familiar to readers of Harry Turtledove’s dark parallel histories.  Probably no other storyteller has covered a world where Nazi Germany came out on top as frequently as Turtledove in his novels.  Carter and Lovecraft leave the more Lovecraftian monster horror realm when a cataclysmic event splits reality between the Folded World–the real world–and the Unfolded World, a scary surreal parallel world where a change in historical events threw off the course of history, leaving the duo to begin a journey to try to make things right.

The novel takes much by way of concept from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle and the recent popularity of its television adaptation, and the political aura of the recent trend of life reflecting fiction echoing in entertainment like The Handmaid’s Tale.  After the End of the World reads like a variant of Dick’s novel, but in Howard’s story Germany destroyed Moscow early in the war, conquered Russia, and sued for peace with the rest of the world, resulting in its lasting success over the past 70 years as a superpower and technological leader.  So this material has been covered in parallel histories, and the value for the reader will be honing in on Emily Lovecraft and Daniel Carter as a pair.

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